Sunday, January 15, 2012

How Not to Interview Joseph Stiglitz

The interview of Joseph Stiglitz aired by CNBC TV-18 on 14 January belongs in every Journalism School's How Not To Do It List.

Stiglitz, perhaps the most intellectually stimulating economist since John Kenneth Galbraith, has been travelling through India. He began by saying what he found interesting in his forays through the coutryside: it was peaceful, "bucolic," but man and beast were in "confrontation". There was a considerable increase in prosperity.

The interviewer flashed a grin and ignored those observations.

Obviously going down a pre-written list of questions, she asked about the slowing growth of Indian GDP, the level of government deficit spending, the wisdom of official "big ticket entitlement programmes" like the one offering a minimum guarantee of employment to the rural poor, the Eurozone problems, and the state of the American economy.

To each question, Stiglitz offered a comment that merited further discussion, but the interviewer seemed not to understand what he was saying. He was firmly in support of the rural employment guarantee scheme; she did not ask why.

It was like watching a journalistic version of Johnny Depp's Ed Wood, the director who produced what is widely recognized as Hollywood's very worst films. She went cheerfully down her list of questions until time ran out and the interview ended abruptly. With a farewell flash of teeth she wished him well on his trip through India.

Perhaps I exaggerate how bad the interview was, but having just returned from a two-week trip through India that allowed a glimpse of the reality that Stiglitz was exploring, it seemed to highlight the generally mindless quality of much of Indian journalism.

My trip to Bangalore, Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Varanasi and Goa was purely as a tourist, but on view everywhere was the stark inescapable reality of massive poverty, almost chaotic disorder, and conditions of filth that indict those of us who are educated and well-off of basic political incompetence.

It was infuriating at one level, ennobling at another. There is nothing worse than seeing little children beg, or working at menial jobs. How could so many of our so-called leaders and minders steal the money meant to help them, as indeed, they have been doing for over six decades? It is a crime worse than any other in our statutes, yet those responsible are allowed a pretended honour.

What was humbling was that poverty lay so lightly on people, that they had a grace I have not found anywhere else in the world. In affluent countries the poor are wretched, degraded. In other poor countries, whether in Africa, the rest of Asia or the Americas, the endurance of the poor is bitter; in India, they seem to have a glow of faith, a connection with divinity that uplifts the observer.

It would have been interesting to hear what Stiglitz had to say.      

No comments: